One tiny incision for robot, one giant leap for mankind.
For the first time ever, a team of surgeons have used a robot to operate inside a human eye, in a procedure that could be revolutionize how some eye conditions are treated.
According to a report in The Guardian, the operation was performed on a 70-year-old patient who had lost almost all of his vision in one eye because a membrane growing on the surface of his retina had contracted and pulled it into an uneven shape. During the operation, the 100th-of-a-millimetre thick membrane needed to be dissected off the retina carefully so that it wouldn’t get damaged.
Combatting hand tremors can be tricky for surgeons performing this procedure. Using a robot, however, the surgeons were able to perform the precision operation using a joystick and touchscreen.
“Normally when we do this operation by hand, we touch the retina and there is some hemorrhage,” professor Robert MacLaren said. “But when we used the robot, the membrane was lifted away. There is no doubt in my mind that we have just witnessed a vision of eye surgery in the future.”
The surgery was performed at John Radcliffe Hospital in a trial involving 12 patients undergoing operations with increasing complexity. The surgeons are using the Robotic Retinal Dissection Device (R2D2), which was built by Preceyes BV, a Dutch medical robotics firm.
During a follow-up visit, the patient stated that his sight is returning and he is relieved he had the procedure.
If the first part of the trial shows good results, the next step will be to see if the robot can place a fine needle under the retina and inject fluid through it.
“Current technology with laser scanners and microscopes allows us to monitor retinal diseases at the microscopic level, but the things we see are beyond the physiological limit of what the human hand can operate on,” MacLaren said. “With a robotic system, we open up a whole new chapter of eye operations that currently cannot be performed.”